Editorial: Niche Fame
by Leonie Huber

For the second issue of dis/claim I invited writers and artists to respond to the notion of ‘niche fame’. Intended as a reference to the online presence of distinct aesthetic and social scenes, I had been asking myself what effect adoring my screen has on the niches I inhabit offline. The contributions of this issue reversed the question. Attending to the tangible niches the authors inhabit, they give an account of the necessity of sharing a place and a time with others and the conditions that make that environment desirable.

       The second issue of dis/claim departs from a topic to which I invited the contributing authors and artists to respond. I thought of it late last year while I found myself scrolling through Instagram, various blogs and magazines, vaguely searching for a point of departure, which would allow this project and myself to connect again to the art world after graduating and a much-needed break. In the initial email wrote: “I picked up the notion ‘niche-famous’ in a New York Times profile about Kaitlin Philipps,[1] introduced as ‘Lower Manhattan’s most infamous publicist’ and named @sentfrommyblackberry on Instagram, an account I’ve been following for a while. In the article, she is quoted as defining ‘her professional sweet spot as ‘very niche famous people,’ by which she means people who are interesting to her, and to the other people she finds interesting. ‘People who aren’t necessarily known outside of downtown, but are instrumental to that scene,’ is how she describes it.’”

       A niche as an economic, ecological and visual sweet spot seemed a fertile metaphor to connect to the concept of dis/claim, its situatedness in the Viennese art scene and its intention to reflect and challenge art writing as a form. A niche being all at once a marketplace in which a product is sellable, an environment where a specific species is able to survive and an alcove where an artwork is best presented. Which strategies of self-branding and self-mythologizing are employed in the niche market of text production in contemporary art? In which way do the niches we inhabit online and offline influence how we present ourselves and relate to each other, especially in such an intimate scene like Vienna? How are signifiers of tribal affiliations and aesthetics inscribed into the genre of art writing?

       Though deliberately referencing New York’s Downtown scene and namedropping some of this central figures, I was less interested in that specific environment than in the fugal state of online celebrities and fandom. Frankly, I didn’t know much about the Downtown scene and at best, was curious to learn something about it from those I approached with this topic. I wondered what the synergies were between proclaimed niche fame and the platform’s mechanics that make me follow accounts like these. Conscious of the fact that compiling visual signs of a ‘shared’ opinion, taste or style in my feed is subjected to an algorithm programmed based on similarity and probability, I asked myself how much agency I have over identifying with a certain tribe. Is it still niche if it’s all alike?

       Inviting others to share the insights, knowledge and questions acquired while clicking, scrolling or gazing at the illuminated surface of their phones, my intent was to unearth some endorphin induced obsessions. The aforementioned email continued: “I both identify and create the niche I inhabit. In doing so, I am – like the people I find interesting – simultaneously obsessed with others’ personae and the possibility of a self adjacent to them. As aesthetic strategies autofiction and self-mythologizing are crucial to this algorithmic activity as well as to the genre of art writing at large. In his latest column for Spike Magazine, Dean Kissick identifies a broader shift in cultural production hyperbolized in New York’s Dimes Square scene: ‘You write your autofiction about yourself and others write their fictions about you, often anonymously, on Substacks, subreddits, messageboards like Lolcow, on Twitter and Instagram and podcasts too, and this makes things different from what has come before. The lives of these personae are written by themselves and by others, often by people who aren’t in New York, who’ve never been to New York, as popular commentary and frantic obsession.’[2] I am not in New York, but in Vienna. Here, I write my fictions about niche-famous people inside or outside of the local scene alike who concurrently populate my autofiction supplying tools and forms for self-mythology.”

       During the process of working on the second issue of dis/claim, I became aware of the distance between New York and Vienna or between my phone and my face, my mouth, the tongue I use to discuss the topic with the contributors. In contrast to my expectation nobody shared their secret obsessions or online crushes with me. The niches the contributions to the second issue inhabit are tangible. They are emotional, professional and spatial. They give an account of the necessity of sharing a place and a time with others and the conditions that make that respective environment inhabitable. In this, they might be deeply Viennese, engaging in a different temporality than cultural commentary. They are unpolished and confessional, not like a guilty pleasure secretly engaged in the darkness of a bedroom dimly lit by a single screen, but in the way that you see a colleague in unexpected company in a bar or writing in their diary over a glass of wine.

       I am thankful for the contributions of the second issue of dis/claim for inviting me and others into their niches and guiding me away from screens and lonely frantic obsessions. Complementing their contributions, over the next months reviews and interviews will be published. Additionally, a monthly newsletter will connect current with previously published content and highlight projects of the contributing artists and writers. Finally, you are cordially invited to dis/claim’s first event hosted by Laurenz, celebrating the second issue and the launch of its Instagram channel at the end of April.

[1] Amy Larocca: Bright Lights, Big City, Niche Fame, New York Times, 25.08.2022.
[2] Dean Kissick: The Dimes Square Spiral, SPIKE Magazine, 10.11.2022.